Why planning is important
In the planning stage, you'll need to determine what it is exactly that you want from a website. If you don't have a lot of experience with websites you might need to spend some extra time doing some research so you don't get caught down the track with a website that's not entirely what you want.
In today's market, your primary website is generally going to be connected to a lot of ancillary services such as email marketing, transactional email, security services, social media channels, advertising services and more. So there are considerations that need to be made with this aspect too. Attention needs to be given on how your website is going to integrate with all these external platforms.
What are the main things you want from a website?
Keep it simple, I just need an online presence
For some, this may be an easy question. It possibly could be just as simple as having a presence on the web with some basic information that rarely changes. Your business could be pretty much totally off-line and not something an elaborate website would help in any way. Except for customers being able to find your business to call through. These type of businesses are becoming the minority. However, I don't doubt that these type of requirements for a business are still possible.
I want to sell products online
On the next level up, you may be wanting to get into online sales of some type. Whether that be selling products and services. Instantly, the website requirements become a lot more wide-ranged, even if that involves setting up a basic Shopify store.
I need specific features for my website
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be wanting to provide a totally unique service to your customers that aren't seen with the standard online platforms out there. This is where things get a lot more complex as we are now out of the realms of DIY and into the murky area of custom design and development. However, by going through the process of planning you can begin to understand if you fall into that camp or not. Generally, if the requirements are relatively minor and not fundamental to the system a preexisting online platform can be used and modified to suit. I must say, there is a point where if the modifications may be that vast or the requirements so unique that it is better to build the website application from the ground up.
Write down some examples and notes, get those ideas out of your head
Have a look around and see what others are doing
A great idea of clarifying what it is that you'll need from your website is to have a look around at other websites that you like. Make a note of features you would like your website to include. More details the better. You can take screen captures, copy the URL of the page you are on or possibly even do video screen capture if the feature is part of a series of actions. The main thing is to get the ideas floating around in your head documented so you work objectively with all the components.
Don't get too caught up on the look and feel, it's only part of the bigger picture
Try not to get too caught up with the visual look and feel of a website unless that's what your website is all about. Generally, it's the things that you don't see on the surface that can take the time or be difficult to reproduce. For example, you may see a little button next to a product listing saying, "Add this to my wish list". While it doesn't look like much there's a whole heap of things going on in the background that makes a feature like this possible. If the platform you have chosen to build your website on doesn't have this feature or have some sort of a plugin, it could end up costing a lot of money to have something like this built into the website. But, it's just a little button you say? Well, I won't go into too many details why it's not just a little button except to say that once that button is clicked it needs to determine if the customer is logged into their account if based on a logged-in customer. If not, display some sort of a message to say it's available to customers and to sign-up or login. If the customer is logged in, to record that wish list option most likely into a database for storage and later retrieval. Not to mention, having a section on the website where customers can show all their wish list items, display when a product has been marked as a wish list item. I think you get the picture!
The more details the better
Sometimes things aren't what they seem so it's always a good idea to be as detailed as possible when writing up your website plan. Things like the product wish list example above can be checked off when doing your research. For example, yes, WordPress Woocommerce does have a plugin that allows customers to add products to their wish list.
Putting the plan together
Regarding your website documentation, there are a few approaches.
Try to avoid the scattered approach
The "scattered approach" is where information that you are putting together about your website project is scattered all over the place. In emails, bits of notepaper, Word documents, etc. Essentially all over the shop. It might feel right at the time but it's not going to help when collating all the information and organising into a plan that you can understand.
Centralise the information
Try to use one tool for putting together your plan so everything is in the one spot. Even if it's as simple as a Google or Word Doc. If there are important correspondences regarding the website project, copy the information into that source. You'll thank yourself later when you forget. Everyone forgets things, it's natural. Although if you have an "organise as you go" system in place the less need you'll have to rely on your memory.
Special Planning Tools
Centralising your website plan into a singular document like a Google or Word Document is a great start and possibly all you'll need to get your project up and running. However, if the requirements are plentiful or complex a special planning or project management tool could be a viable option. A project management tool can help with splitting up all the website feature requirements you might have and allow for easy prioritisation, collaboration if working in a team, and more. Today many project management tools are fully featured even on the free plans. So really no need to spend a cent unless your website project becomes really involved. See the Website Library book on Project Management Software for more direction.
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